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Full text of "On the Naturalistic Background of the 'Frog-Hymn,' Rig-Veda 7. 103"

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ON THE NATURALISTIC BACKGROUND OF THE 
'PROG-HYMN,' RIG-VEDA 7. 103 

Harold H. Bender 
Princeton University 

The so-called 'frog-hymn,' RV. 7. 103, has been frequently 
and variously discussed, but since Professor Bloomfield's article 
in JAOS 17. 173 ff. there has been no reason to doubt that it is 
a serious, practical, sacerdotal rain-charm. 1 It may be possible, 
however, to add a point or two by way of corroboration of 
Bloomfield's view, and by way of exegesis of the hymn itself. 

The relationship between the frogs of the hymn and the frogs 
of nature has been rather vaguely assumed, but nowhere suffi- 
ciently insisted upon. For example, altho it is of course taken 
for granted, no Vedist, so far as I am aware, has made even the 
definite statement that in India the frogs actually do croak at 
the beginning of the rainy season. But there is somewhat more 
of a zoogeographical background to the hymn, and incidentally 
more evidence for the rain-charm theory, than appears in 
Macdonell's statement (History of Sanskrit Literature, p. 121) 
that 'the awakening of the frogs at the beginning of the rainy 
season is here described with a graphic power which will doubt- 

1 The chief argument against this view and in behalf of the once widely 
held, but now obsolete interpretation of the hymn as a satire on the 
Brahmans has been based upon the conception that the frog is a grotesque 
and even repulsive animal. But to many people and peoples he is very far 
from being either. The respectful comparison of Brahmans with frogs is 
no more violent than the assignment by the Greeks of the little horned owl 
of southern Europe to Pallas Athena as an emblem of her wisdom. 
Notice, e. g., Brehms Tierleben, 4. 283 : ' [Flower] erzahlt, dass wahrend der 
Begenzeit, als jeden Abend Schwarme von Insekten, vom Lichte angezogen, 
'ins Haus kamen und zur Essenszeit sehr lastig wurden, ein oder zwei solcher 
Frosche [Indian bullfrogs] auf den Esstisch gesetzt wurden. Sie schienen 
zu verstehen, was von ihnen verlangt wurde, denn anstatt wegzuspringen oder 
sich von den Gasten oder Dienern beunruhigen zu lassen, fingen und 
verzehrten sie die ftiegenden Insekten nacheinander, wenn diese auf den 
Tisch landeten.' See also Waddell, 'Frog-worship' (in Nepal), Indian 
Antiquary, 22. 293 ft*. 



On the Rig-Veda 'Frog-hymn' 187 

less be appreciated best by those who have lived in India'; or 
than appears in the key-note of Bloonifield's article (p. 178) : 
'The frog in his character of water-animal par excellence 
quenches fire, produces water where previously there was none, 
is the proper repository for fever, and finally is associated with 
the annual appearance of rain in the rainy season.' 

It is an almost universal superstition, if not a fact, that the 
croaking of frogs is a sign of rain. It is well established that 
the tree-frog, 'the prophet of the summer showers,' is apt to 
croak when the barometer is low and rain is impending. It is 
quite possible that the more aquatic species do likewise. An 
army captain tells of their suddenly appearing at the first sign 
of rain and croaking by the thousands on the sandy drilling 
grounds of a fort in Arizona. This frequently occurs after 
months of drouth and of silence on the part of the frogs. If the 
Vedic Indians observed that the coming of the rains was pre- 
ceded by the croaking of frogs, or even if the croaking and the 
rain were simultaneous, it would have been natural, yea inev- 
itable, for them to conclude that the frogs were responsible for 
the breaking of the rains. There is, in fact, more than a bit of 
native evidence that the Hindus viewed the frogs as 'rain- 
callers. ' 

In America, as in Europe and temperate latitudes in general, 
frogs hibernate in winter. In India, as in other tropical coun- 
tries, they estivate during the dry season, i. e. they bury them- 
selves deep in the sand or soil and silently await the coming of 
the rains. They emerge by the thousands from their places of 
estivation at the beginning of the rainy season ; they breed when 
they thus emerge in the tropical spring from their retreats ; they 
croak chiefly during the breeding period, the croak being the 
sexual cry of the male. When a large number of individuals 
join in the performance, as is usually the case, the concert at the 
beginning of the rains is simply deafening and is audible miles 
away. 2 Thus, in a very real sense, the croaking of the frogs 



a Cf. in general Brehms Tierleben, 4th ed., edited by Otto zur Strassen, 
Leipzig and Wien, 1911-1915, vol. 4: Die Lurche und Kriechtiere von Alfred 
Brehm, neubearbeitet von Franz Werner, 1912; Cambridge Natural History, 
vol. 8: Amphibia and Beptiles by H. Gadow; Mary 0. Dickerson, The Frog 
Booh, New York, 1913; E. G. Boulenger, Beptiles and Batrachians, New 



188 Harold H. Bender 

ushers in the Indian rainy season, and by an easy causa causata 
is considered responsible for it. 

The texts make it plain that the croaking of the frogs is pre- 
ceded by a period of silence. In the Harivamsa, Visnuparvan 
95. 23 ■= 8803, the frogs croak after having slept eight months. 
In EV. 7. 103. 1, 8, and 9 the frogs raise their voices after having 
lain silent for twelve months. The silence of the frogs is, of 
course, that of estivation. The longer period would count from 
the first appearance of the frogs in one year to their first appear- 
ance in the next year, or from the beginning of one rainy season 
to the beginning of the following one. The shorter period would 
reckon from the end of the rains one year to their beginning 
in the next year. In the Panjab the rainy season lasts four 
months — June, July, August, and September. 

In many cases when the texts especially designate the sex of 
the frog, it is the female (manduki, mandukika) that croaks (cf. 
AV. 4. 15. 14, and Bloomfleld, p. 179 and note). Biologically, 
however, the female frog has little or no voice and only the male 
croaks. But as frogs have no external organs of copulation, 
the Hindus could not have distinguished male and female. Even 
a frog itself cannot determine by sight the sex of another. At 
the breeding period a male frog approaches another frog and 
embraces it; if the latter croaks it is recognized as a male and 
is released. Doubtless this breeding is described in our hymn: 
' [Stanza 3] When, the rainy season having arrived, it has 
rained upon them longing and thirsting, then crying akhkhala, 
as a son to his father one approaches the other (who is) croak- 
ing. 3 [Stanza 4] One of them seizes the other when they have 
both delighted in the pouring forth of the waters 4 ; when the 



York, 1914; Encyclopaedia Britannica, s. v. Batrachia, Hibernation. See 
also G. A. Boulenger, The Tailless Batrachians of Europe (in publications 
of the Bay Society), 1897-8, vol. 1, especially p. 62 ff.; E. Massat, 'Les 
Oris des Batraeiens, ' Cosmos, Paris, 1911, vol. 64; J. Gal, 'Chant de la 
Kainette,' Bull. Soc. Stud. Sc. Nat., Nimes, vol. 35. 

3 The seer should not be blamed for failing to observe that it is only the 
approaching (male) frog that is croaking; it is admittedly difficult to detect 
a frog in the act of croaking. 

* The sexual ' seizing ' lasts often for hours and even days and would 
certainly be noticed frequently by the rishi-naturalist. 



On the Big-Veda 'Frog-hymn' 189 

frog sprinkled by the rain hopped about, 5 the speckled joins 
voice with the green.' Here we have together and in proper 
sequence the beginning of the rains, the croaking, and the breed- 
ing — in the hymn as in nature. 

The emphatic distinction in stanzas 4, 6, and 10 between the 
speckled and the green frogs attracts attention. This classifica- 
tion of frogs into two kinds, the speckled and the green, appar- 
ently goes by parallel straight thru the hymn. The one 
approaches the other, any 6 any dm (stanza 3) ; the one seizes the 
other, any 6 anydm (stanza 4) ; both kinds rejoice in the waters 
(4) ; the speckled joins voice with the green (4) ; the one repeats 
the cry of the other, any 6 anydsya (5) 5a ; the one bellows like an 
ox, the other bleats like a goat (6 and 10) ; the one is speckled, 
the other is green (6 and 10). In stanzas 4 and 10 dual verbs 
are used — with subjects in the sense of 'both kinds, the speckled 
and the green. ' It is more than possible that the colorings were 
considered an indication of sex. If the parallel holds, and it 
seems to hold perfectly, the male frog, speckled and deep-voiced, 
approached, seized, and bred with the female, who was green 
and had less voice. 6 

It is quite certain, however, that in the hymn different genera 
are indicated, either consciously or unconsciously — and in the 
case of the speckled frog, possibly a definite species. According 
to Brehm, the frogs and toads of India are Banidae (true frogs 
and flying frogs), Engystomatidae (small-mouthed frogs), and 
Pelobatidae (toad frogs). To the second of these families 
belongs the numerous, wide-spread, large, brown-yellow-black- 
red-gray speckled Indian Bullfrog, Callula pulchra Gray, whose 
voice resembles the bellow of an ox. 7 Twice in the hymn we 



5 kdnislcan : frequentative rather than intensive. Bloomfield, ' did skip. ' 

B a Despite "Wackernagel, Altindische Grammatik, 2. 1. 322 (cf. also Brug- 
mann, Grundriss, 2. 1. 95), I am unable to see any indication, either in 
forms, accent, syntax, or context, of reciprocal action in stanzas 3, 4, or 5. 

8 That there was, at least later, a consciousness of the sex-element in the 
hymn is suggested by Harivamsa, Visnuparvan 95. 23 = 8803, 'a passage 
which is clearly modelled after sts. 7 ff. of our hymn . . . : "The frog 
having lain asleep eight months croaks with his wives." ' (Bloomfield, p. 
178). 

7 It inhabits the Indian mainland from Ceylon to China, and is known and 
distinguished everywhere for its variegated coloring and for its remarkably 



190 Harold H. Bender 

find, if not the direct statement, at least the clear indication by 
parallel that the speckled frog has a deep voice and bellows like 
an ox, and that the green frog bleats like a goat, i. e. has less 
voice: 'One bellows like an ox (gomdyur eko), the other bleats 
like a goat; one of them is speckled, the other is green' (stanza 
6) ; 'The one that bellows like an ox, the one that bleats like a 
goat j the speckled one and the green one have both given us 
wealth' (stanza 10). In Kausika 93. 4 and 96. 1 and 3 gomayu 
above is used outright as a name for a particular kind of frog — 
quite possibly the Indian bullfrog. There are various species in 
India of green (or, for that matter, yellow or greenish-yellow) 
frogs that 'bleat like a goat,' that have less voice: 'bearing a 
common name, but of different color-and-shape, they modulate 
their voice in various ways when they speak' (stanza 6). 

That the hymn is on the whole hieratic cannot be denied, and 
one must agree, rather regretfully, to be sure, with Bloomfield 
(p. 176) in rejecting the picture of a 'mildly frenzied rhapsodist 
among the people, or, perhaps, . . . some Raja's poet laureate 
"given to infinite tobacco" [to keep away the mosquitoes!], as 
he walks along the jungle in the cool of the evening, at the 
opening of the rainy season, eager to bag some good subject for 
the delectation of the court of his patron.' But even if the 



loud voice. For a full description of its habitat, markings, habits, and voice 
see Brehm, 1. c, p. 281 ff. Notice p. 283 : 'Spater macht Flower auf Grand 
seiner Beobachtungen in Siam noch weitere Mitteilungen fiber den Indisehen 
Ochsenfroseh . . . Wahrend der Begenzeit in Bangkok ist fast jeden Abend 
nach einem regnerischen Tage die Luft voll von dem drohnenden Gequake 
dieser Frosche, das wie "eung-ahng eungh-angh" klingt und, bald fallend, 
bald ansteigend, die ganze Nacht fortgesetzt wird. [Of. stanza 7 of the 
hymn: 'Like Brahmans at the all-night soma-sacrifice, chanting around 
the full soma-bowl (pool).'] An manchen Strassen, die beiderseits von 
Wasser begrenzt sind, und wo Callula haufig ist, kann man buchstablich 
seine eigene Stimme nicht horen. ' 

The voice of the Indian bullfrog is elsewhere described by Flower as 
'wau-auhhhhk.' With akhkhala in stanza 3, above, Bloomfield (p. 174, 
note) compares j3pcKe/ceKe| /coif icoaf. But according to G. A. Boulenger 
(above, p. 63) the cry of Aristophanes' chorus of frogs is that of Bana 
esculenta, which is not a speckled, but a green frog. I grant, however, 
that little weight can be put on efforts accurately to describe the voice of 
•frogs. Probably no two modern observers would agree entirely upon a 
phonetic transcription of the voice of any species. 



On the Rig-Yeda 'Frog-hymn' 191 

ecclesiastical 'Stimmungsbrechung' at the end was, as seems 
likely, the production of the author of the remainder of the 
hymn, I submit, nevertheless, that the rishi was not so absorbed 
in the prospects of bakhshish that he could not afford the time 
to observe with patient care the frogs at their play and to 
describe with genuine interest and enthusiasm what he saw. 
Notice, in addition to what has already been said, stanza 5 of our 
hymn: 'When one of them repeats the cry of the other, as a 
student (that) of the teacher, then all that with them is like a 
well-executed 8 lesson, when with a loud voice they croak upon 
the water.' One croaks in one direction, another croaks in 
another direction ; then a whole chorus arises as if a great group 
of students were repeating the words of the teacher. Any one 
who has observed frogs will recognize this as an accurate and 
vivid description. 

Finally, to Bloomfield's evidence of the use of the frog in 
rain-charms may be added a point from the report of ritual 
uses in Lanman's edition of Whitney's translation of the 
Atharva-Veda. AV. 3. 13 is addressed directly to the waters and 
is prescribed in whole or in part for four different purposes: 
to be used with a frog in a ceremony for directing water into a 
certain course (Kausika 40. Iff.); to accompany the conducting, 
in the dgnieayana, of water, reeds, and a frog over the altar-site 
(Vaitana 29. 13) ; to be used by one desiring rain (Commen- 
tary) ; to be employed in a rite for good fortune (Kausika 41. 
14). Here we have in the native employment of one hymn all 
the elements of frog-ritualism except its use as a cure for fever. 



8 Cf. Bloomfleld, p. 174 and note.